This year’s most outrageous attacks on science

Julia Belluz reviews the worst health myths of 2011, and her new year’s resolutions

by Julia Belluz

docksidepress/Flickr

‘Tis the time of year to look back, and in reflecting on Science-ish, it seemed wise to seek out all those who made outrageously science-ish statements in 2011, and ask them why—in their claims on topics as far ranging as asbestos and home care—they completely ignored the evidence. But pulling people away from the fireplace and eggnog seemed unfair over the holidays… and unlikely to elicit constructive responses, if any at all. So instead, from the Science-ish archives, here are the year’s most offensive attacks on science, with a wish list of questions I would like to see answered about these wildly unscientific ideas:

1. THE ASBESTOS DEBATES: It would be really great to find Dimitri Soudas, the former PMO communications director, and ask him why he said: “All scientific reviews clearly confirm that chrysotile [white asbestos] can be used safely under controlled conditions” when all those who care about evidence—from the World Health Organization to the Quebec-based Robert-Sauvé Occupational Health and Safety Research Institute—agree that all types of asbestos are carcinogenic for people and the “so-called controlled use of asbestos is a fallacy.”
Related story: Can asbestos be used “safely”? 

2. LIFESTYLE REPORTERS ON NUTRITION: I’d like to have a roundtable with some of the lifestyle writers and editors at our national media outlets and ask them why they report the latest findings about nutrition in a vacuum for the sake of a sexy headline, without asking some fundamental questions about the research they’re looking at or how a new study compares to all the other related studies on the topic. For example, the Toronto Star reported “the treadmill can act as second antidepressant,” when Science-ish found the evidence was a little more nuanced than that, and the Globe and Mail peddled probiotics in yogurt as a cure-all which stimulates the immune system, even though, as one researcher put it, “they don’t do anything to the immune system because they die in the stomach and bile.”
Related stories: Yogurt, the fermented panacea? and Can hitting the gym cure the blues?

3. SCARE MONGERING ABOUT CYCLING: I’d like to ask the columnists who had screaming fits about the dangers of cycling in cities—in the  Gazette and Winnipeg Free Press, for example—what evidence their statements were based on, and whether they ever considered that, in a society that is grappling with obesity, cycling might actually be a good thing. In fact, as far as Science-ish could tell, those who have systematically studied cycling in cities found that the benefits outweigh the harms, and, despite the headlines, the number of fatalities for cyclists has been declining in Canada.
Related story: Do the health benefits of cycling outweigh the risks?

4. THE HOME CARE SOLUTION: It would be nice to have tea with Deb Matthews and ask why she offers solutions to our social ills in palatable side-bites, too often garnished with little evidence. As I noted in a post about “The end of hospitals,” Matthews this year announced the Liberal plan to invest $60 million in home-care for seniors and the disabled, which would supposedly improve access to health care, and reduce costs and hospital visits. People who dedicate their lives to researching this issue, however, found that it’s not so simple. As one scientist said, “the only way you can say home care has saved on hospital care is if you close down the hospital, which politically is not a very popular thing to do.” Otherwise, costs are just added to the health-care system through the creations of parallel services.
Related story: The end of hospitals

5. THE BAN ON BLOOD FROM GAY MEN: One particularly outrageous anti-evidence policy is the Canadian Blood Services’ continuing refusal of blood donations from gay men, when other countries—such as Australia and the U.K.—have lifted the ban to move in-step with the science. I would like to ask folks at CBS why they haven’t changed what seems like an awfully outdated and discriminatory policy when other similar health systems around the world have managed to do so.
Related story: Who’s afraid of a gay man’s blood? We are.

6. DRUGS AND LAW ENFORCEMENT: I know this might be a lot to wish for, but I really would like to meet Stephen Harper and his people to go over the National Anti-Drug Strategy, which has allocated 70 per cent of its $64 million in funding to law enforcement, only 17 per cent to treatment, and a mere four per cent to prevention. It would be neat to see how they square that policy with the growing body evidence showing that harm-reduction strategies to deal with drug addiction, such as the Insite safe-injection clinic, are actually helpful, while I’ve yet to come across compelling evidence showing similarly positive results for law enforcement.
Related story: Insite: ‘Too early to tell’ if it works?

A SCIENCE-ISH RESOLUTION
In 2011, we reporters and politicians sometimes failed to make evidence-based health statements and policies. But we consumers also made baffling health choices. Skepticism about the flu vaccine remained, despite the fact that the benefits of getting the shot far outweigh potential harm; Canadians continued to throw their hard-earned dollars into alternative medicine, when the research shows that most of it doesn’t have any effect above and beyond that of a placebo; and we gobbled up antioxidant-rich functional foods when the science shows they can actually kill us quicker. Science-ish also noted that we continue to ask for more cancer screening and vitamin D testing—in the face of evidence that suggests we should not.

To an extent, of course, this is understandable: health matters are complex and often confusing. But there is a connection between ill-informed political decisions, the sometimes shoddy information about health in our broadsheets, and the way we choose to live. Hopefully, in 2012, we will raise the level of discourse, and from the personal to the political, make some wiser, evidence-informed decisions.

Science-ish is a joint project of Maclean’s, The Medical Post, and the McMaster Health Forum. Julia Belluz is the associate editor at The Medical Post. Got a tip? Seen something that’s Science-ish? Message her at julia.belluz@medicalpost.rogers.com or on Twitter @juliaoftoronto




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This year’s most outrageous attacks on science

  1. ‘We’ve arranged a global civilization in which the most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology.  We have also arranged things so that no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. ”
     
    Carl Sagan.

    • Excellent! And I very much like your affectation to that popular sci-fi TV series. As for the arrangement that “no one understands science and technology” unfortunately not too many people understand Das Kapital either. But this is why our education system has failed miserably because it wasn’t designed to impart innovative thinking unless serving the interest of whatever sovereign group

      • Heh…well people on here often ‘talk past each other’, much as they did in that Star Trek episode, so I thought it was fitting.

        Yes, our education has been a disaster. When I first went to school we had to move in neat quiet lines to the next job whenever the bell rang. They thought it was ideal training for the factories we were supposedly going to spend our lives in.

        We were also forbidden to learn anything about Russia or China….they were the ‘enemy’. 

        So now that none of it has worked out according to plan it leaves people not knowing anything about the world and the time we actually inhabit. 

        • “Water, water everywhere and all the boards did shrink. Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink”

          • Yup, narrow and specific to what they wanted…not actual ‘education’.

  2. Transparency: I represent Balcorp, a Montreal-based company that exports chrysotile.

    Some facts about chrysotile:
    It is a legal product, used in Canada.  To give just one example,
    chrysotile-cement pipes are installed in Montreal’s new “La Maison Symphonique
    de Montréal” – the concert hall for the Montreal Symphony Orchestra which was
    inaugurated in September of 2011. 
    Similar pipes can be found in several institutional, industrial and
    commercial buildings, as well as in many luxury condominiums built in Montreal
    and Toronto in the past decade.

    These pipes
    are identical to the chrysotile-cement sheets and pipes used in developing
    countries.  If the material is good
    enough for us, why is it not good enough for them?

    Health
    Canada states quite clearly that when chrysotile is enclosed or tightly bound
    in a compound, the fibre presents «no significant health risk».  These modern products include chrysotile
    cement pipes that made up a full 19 % of drinking-water distribution networks
    in Canada in 2003 (much of it in Western Canada), as well as cement roofing
    sheets that are ubiquitous throughout the developing world and that are
    identical to the cladding that still adorns many older Canadian buildings.

    The health
    problems of the past were created by the sprayed or «friable» (easily broken
    up) asbestos used in buildings until the 1970s. 
    These types of usages are no longer in use, nor are the amphibole-types
    of asbestos that have been found to be much more damaging to health than
    chrysotile and that were often mixed with chrysotile, notably in piping
    insulation such as in the Sarnia region. 
    But since asbestos-related disease can take up to 40 years to develop,
    we are still witnessing the sad legacy of the past. When sprayed or «friable»
    products are removed, very strict precautions must be taken; on the other hand,
    high-density materials where chrysotile is enclosed can be handled with much
    simpler procedures.

    To equate today’s health problems with modern
    asbestos products is to ignore the facts. 
    Chrysotile usage in India alone has gone up 9 % in the past year.  That country’s government and institutions
    have the same information we have.  They
    are obviously of the opinion that chrysotile answers very important basic needs
    of their population of providing affordable roofing for the poor, for whom the
    choice is of having a chrysotile cement roof or having no roof.

    • http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-10623725

      You can listen to the industry rep, or you can think for yourself. Perhaps Guy would tell us why this very safe product barely has a market within Canada these days?

      • How about actually rebutting anything he has to say on the matter?

        • How about reading the link[s] and drawing your own conclusions…the whole godamn article rebutes him. Or do expect me to be an expert on asbestos? unlike you i value informed opinion. Opinion that is backed by facts and evidence,that doesn’t move the goal posts like you do whenever you’re confronted by facts or even arguements you don’t like.

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          • I will simply note that you have not specifically rebutted anything the man has said here on these boards. Simply linking to an article elsewhere and swearing it has all the rebuttals is not a rebuttal. You have suggested that anyone who doesn’t agree with you can’t think for themselves, yet you have shown no ability of your own in this regard. Thanks.

        • Mod note: Deleted a bunch of comments that were unrelated to the parent content. Keep the bickering to a minimum folks.  Thanks.

      • Dear kcm2: As mentioned at the beginning of my post, I AM an industry rep. And may I respectfully point out that I DO think for myself.  I have personally researched the file, reading not the media reports but the actual original scientific papers whenever I have had access.  I know very well about the WHO’s position and there is a lot to say about this position; their claim as to the number of deaths attributable to chrysotile relies on estimates and they have so far refused to substantiate it.  I know about Hodgson.  We actually agree with him that chrysotile poses a much lesser risk than other types of asbestos, but he says this risk must lead to a ban while we say this risk can be properly managed. I don’t know about the Burdof study, I will look it up.  But there are strong studies that say the opposite.  As for your central question: why is it not used more in Canada?  In fact it is being used in many new buildings, for example the brand new Concert hall in Montreal, the major hospital now under construction in Montreal, and many condos, industrial and commercial buildings constructed in the past decade.  It could be used much more extensively, were it not for the very strong opposition from some not always well-informed quarters.  Respectfully,

        • The examples you give of chrysotile asbestos products being used in government procured major buildings in Montreal does not inspire confidence given the atrocious construction record in the Province. The production of asbestos by Quebec and its use in Quebec and India is an illuminating conflation. There are far too many examples of industry/government collaborations that have placed jobs and profits and tax income before health and safety. Where risk can be managed, is it not better to avoid completely? If the asbestos industry is willing to underwrite the potential health outcomes of its products against future lawsuits, then perhaps they can put their wallet where their mouths are.

          • Canucker, at least half of the buildings on my list, completed in Montreal AND Toronto in the last decade, are privately-owned and were privately built.  Thus includes major hotels, retail stores, industrial buildings, high-end condos.  Also, I would like to lead you on a tour of buildings thourghout Quebec – most notably in the Eastern townships – that still are clad with their original chrysotile-cement cladding, 50, 60 years old and showing no signs of degradation.  These include houses, office buildings, major industrial plants, including of course the buildings of the LAB and Jeffrey mines, and at least one church I came across while touring the region. 
            About managing the risk: as a life sciences researcher, you are certainly aware that we do this all the time; that it is impossible to eliminate risk.  The question is:  how much of a risk is there in a specific substance or product, what are its benefits, and do we, as a society, believe we should ban it or manage it?  This is the fundamental question that proponents and opponents to chrysotile disagree on.
            On my side of the issue, we believe the dangers of chrysotile, as used in modern products in today’s conditions (see my original posting) have been vastly exagerated.  We do not question the catastrophe that was created by improper usages and products many decades ago, but we should try to learn from the past and move ahead constructively, which we believe we are doing.
            As for the wallet of the old asbestos industry (that which predates 1990), it has long since been transferred to the lawyers, with a trickle actually reaching the victims of our past mistakes.
            Respectfully yours.

          • Risk assessment is incredibly difficult – especially for agents that take many years to aggrevate the tissues of the body. Moreover, it costs huge sums of money to prove cause and effect. After 50 years, asbestosis is recognized as solely being caused by asbestos exposure. Making a known carcinogen safe requires a level of proof that is beyond that of products that have yet to identified as a problem. In the meantime, encapsulating asbestos in concrete is, as you admit, deferring the problem to demolition. My father in law was charged with removing lagging from pipe work as he replaced pipes. There was no warning of danger nor indication of the presence of asbestos. Are the chrysotile products labelled and obvious? If the product is used in construction, do the new condo owners know this? There are many risks in life but that does not justify perpetuating one that can be effectively eliminated.

          • Canucker, I’m replying to your last message here because for some reason I cannot do it below your message.

            Acknowledged, the burden of proof is heavy.  As we say in French, “chat échaudé craint l’eau froide” (the scalded cat fears cold water).  But my problem in the past year has been that people who oppose our opinion flatly refuse to examine the evidence, dismissing it as «industry-bought research».  Look at the literature: basically, the opponents to chrysotile say “we are against it because everybody is against it and shame on people who say otherwise”.  We have a lot of credible research on our side but people simply refuse to listen.

            As for your father in law, his tragedy results from products that we have learned are dangerous (asbestos in pipe insulation was not hard-bound and could easily be released in the air, and also, amphibole asbestos was often mixed with chrysotile because of their greater resistance).  We have learned.

            As for demolition, when you break cement where chrysotile is bound, you will simply wind up with smaller pieces of cement where chrysotile is bound, unless you make it a point to pulverize it into very fine dust.  I acknowledge this is a possibility, but we have learned to safely handle hundreds of dangerous substances, so why can we not do so here also?  The most obvious dangers are in sawing and drilling with high-speed electrical tools.  There are simple and very well known procedures to handle such situations, for example applying water to the material.  These rea applied daily on all worksites where chrysotile pipes are installed.

            I do not want to over-simplify, but I believe we should not over-complicate.

            I will now sign of for a couple of days.  I sincerely wish you a very happy New Year.

        • Thx for responding Guy. Not to belabour the point but i DID acknowledge that you were up front about being an industry rep; i didn’t attempt to imply otherwise. 
          I think you’ll agree there’s a lot of good stuff in the article which does a good job of being balanced – your pov is well covered. Nevertheless strong evidence against your posiiton is apparent, including reports of  products similar to yours not being properly handled or deteriorating and becoming a hazard. Surely you  don’t dispute the fact that many developing lack the resources to properly handle asbestos products and follow up on safe use practises.This is imo the single greatest weakness in your case. That’s why i asked you the question about use in Canada, where safe use practises can be followed yet many choose not to. You may claim it’s just misinformation on the part of your opponents, others will claim they’re just countering your industries propaganda. I say propaganda because as the BBC states there are serious allegations about the veracity of some of the claims about chysotile made by some  scientists. We’ve seen this pattern before with tobacco. So,I think you’ll agree in this day and age ordinary citizens are not simply content to accept  research findings that are not funded and carried out independently of interested parties.
          As for the question of use in Canada i think the last available figures[2006] mentioned around 4% or so of the exported quantities of Chysotile are currently going into new construction – clearly you have a problem. Merely dismisssing opposition as being not always well informed isn’t going to cut it. Rational or not there’s agreat deal of fear out there – real people are dying from previous asbestos useage.  You need to be far more proactive in support of your industry in open and good faith measures. What measures for instance are you taking to ensure chrysotile is being used safely outside Canada?
          It is reasonable to assert imo that there are no perfect guarantees for the future. But…when your industry has had such a horrendous past track record and has been a clear public health hazard, the the ball is definately in your court. Simply asserting these new products are now safe because they’re bonded in cement may not cut it. What studies have demonstrated that these products will not deteriorate and become a hazard down the road?
           In my view your industry made a major PR error in opposing  Rotterdam.  If you allow yourself to be defined by others and your own inaction that’s your problem.
                

          • First, may I say I greatly appreciate the tone of our discussion: serious and respectful, as these issues should be treated.  I misunderstood your original first sentence on me being an industry rep, thought you had not understood this; apologies for that.  Communication other than face-to-face is fraught with pitfalls and prudence is required before interpreting beyond the written word.

            Yes, I did find these BBC articles balanced and fair, more so than much of what I’ve been reading.

            As for usage in Canada, I believe my previous answers cover a lot of ground on this topic.  I will only ad that I agree that we should be using much more of the chrysotile in our own country, I believe we would benefit from it.

            Even public health authorities here will agree that we have solved the problem in the mines and the mills.  The problem today is in the demolition-renovation and building-maintenance sectors where workers must deal with substances installed long ago (see my original posting).

            As for the safety of modern products: first, as I have said in another answer, there are very many buildings in Quebec where chrysotile-cement cladding similar to that being used today in the developing world was installed more than half a century ago and it is still there, still sound.  We have also been asking anyone to come up with a scientific study where an impact on human health at the current maximum exposure level set in Quebec (1f/cc) would have produced a measurable impact on human health and we are still waiting.

            As for exports, the company that employs me has been exporting chrysotile to India for more than 15 years.  It only sells to industries where safe practices are in place, as provided for in a protocol signed by the government of Canada with exporters in the late 1990s.  We are also on public record as having pledged to put into place an inspection system in the two dozen or so industries where we would sell.  We will not choose inspectors and there will be unannounced visits in the plant.

            We cannot be held responsible for everything anyone does anywhere, only for what we mine and sell, and for the people we sell it to.  We have an opportunity to export our safe-use knowledge aklong with the fibre and to set a new international standard that other producers would be forced to follow.  Yes there are unsafe practices out there, just as there are people dismantling cell phones, computers and ships in dangerous conditions.  But we will have done nothing to solve this problem by simply banning the substance instead of providing it to those who can handle it safely.

            Best regards.

          • That’s a fair and reasonable response and i’ve learned a couple of things. Agree you can’t be responsible for everything everyone else does. However, i just don’t see how opposing Rotterdamn would have negatively impacted safe practises you have signed on to and pledged to carry out? Might it not have given you an advantage over less scrupulous competitors in Russia and Zimbabwe?
            It appears ironic that chrysotile is so throughly restricted here where we have the resources needed to use it safely but not overseas where people are far more vunerable; cost is a factor of course and we have the luxury of readily available alternative materials.
            I’m not yet convinced of the long term health effects of your product and worry that we may be storing up bad news for ourselves down the road. That said we are fortunate to have the luxury of having choices.

          • Dear kcm2:  For some technical reason I do not understand I cannot reply to your latest message so I’m replying for a second time on your previous one.

            I realize I forgot to discuss Rotterdam (I like your spelling in your last message by the way ;-)   I was in a rush to go out – after all it WAS New Year’s eve.

            Its goals and objectives are sound and I believe it works rather well – when used for its designated purpose.  First a fundamental argument. This convention was basically designed for
            substances that are extremely dangerous to handle in any
            circumstances.  Of course, our opponents say chrysotile falls into this
            category and we say it does not.  But suppose we give in out of good faith, or just to placate the opposition.  There will be consequences; this convention was not  designed to restrict trade but in fact it produces exactly this result (for purposes I ethically agree with).  Look at the status of the chemicals listed in Annex III; this is easily accessible through the RC website.  Most of them have been banned in just about all countries, or have been subjected to severe restrictions.  As with all such instruments, the RC has the potential to be misused to multiply bureaucratic obstacles to commerce.  The history of world trade is fraught with examples of bureaucratic impediments to trade by countries who otherwise espouse a free trade mentality.  Logical conclusion: we must not compromise on our beliefs and principles but further the international dialogue on this issue.  The problem here is that positions are deeply entrenched, tempers flare easily, mistrust abounds.

            I will be signing of now for a day or two.  May I wish you a happy New Year?

          • Cheeky bugger :) You’re right i should use a good spell check.

        • Yes, sir, I fully agree with you. Case “Asbestos” is like religion, or man induced global warming. Every particle fine enough to be inhaled may have same health effect as chrysotile asbestos. The present public view on asbestos is the result of past careless handling and reaction of lawyers, insurance companies, and misused/misrepresented science results.

      • Ok, so I read the article you linked to.  I found only a single instance of actual evidence being discussed, and that was by Alex Burdorf, who has reviewed numerous studies and is convinced that ”white asbestos was “much more dangerous than previously thought.” ”  All the other points are at best pseudo-evidentiary, and seem as much due to politics and groupthink as anything else.

  3. In an article discussing people that ignore science; I am disturbed that you disparage people for spending money on “Alternative Medicine.”

    “…when the research shows that most of it doesn’t have any effect above and beyond that of a placebo…”

    Research has shown that placebos have a very significant effect on improving health. It is hypocritical to ignore the evidence that placebos are good for you.

    • Yes, David, placebo is important and real. My point is that this is another example of a therapy we support that is not backed by compelling evidence. However, there are many reasons for this, one of them being that there is little incentive to conduct trials for interventions that can’t be patented. But that’s a whole other topic…

  4. One of problems with science, and society in general, is that conflict is frowned upon between people. People can’t disagree with one another – we all have to get along/agree and it is ridiculous. Proper science only works with conflict, constant questioning – the scientific method. 

    I stopped studying advanced math and science in Grade 11 because those topics were hurting me brain but I still have basic understanding how humans and world work – many of today’s journos don’t seem to have any concept of science/math at all, even less than me, and that’s disturbing. 

    Also, we don’t seem to make distinction between proper scientists and quackery of social scientists. Many social scientists, and others, would claim they believe in evolution but they actually snake oil salesmen who peddle lamarckism and no one seems to be seriously questioning them.  

    Chronicle Of Higher Education:

    “The discovery that the Dutch researcher Diederik A. Stapel made up the data for dozens of research papers has shaken up the field of social psychology, fueling a discussion not just about outright fraud, but also about subtler ways of misusing research data. Such misuse can happen even unintentionally, as researchers try to make a splash with their peers—and a splash, maybe, with the news media, too.”

    http://chronicle.com/article/As-Dutch-Research-Scandal/129746/

    Einstein ~ Die Herrschaft der Dummen ist unüberwindlich, weil es so viele sind, und ihre Stimmen zählen genau wie unsere

    • Evolution is biology, not a social science.

        • So is gravity.

          Go jump off your roof.

          • Jumping off my roof would be empirical evidence of gravity, yes? In other words, it’s a theory we can see in action. Empirical evidence does not exist for evolution, yes? In other words, we have never actually seen it in action, yes?

          • LOL we see it in action every day.

            PS I don’t intend to waste time discussing evolution with a creationist, Dennis….so reconsider the roof.

          • You say you’re for science, yet here you are unable to explain basic science. You also engage in your usual false and unsubstantiated accusations against others. If your agenda isn’t about facts and reason, just what is it about?

          • @Dennis_F 

            Yawn.

    • I think you are absolutely correct about conflict as being beneficial and necessary to science.

      And I agree that in today’s politically correct world, proper debate is sorely lacking in scientific disciplines.

      • There is constant conflict in the scientific world….it is a huge part of the scientific method.

        They do not, however, debate with the general public about it, as that would be rather pointless.

        • What a hilarious assertion, that there are the scientists, and then there are the rest of us. What idolatry! You’re exhibiting exactly what Dennis F is saying, that some people treat science like religion.

          Anyway, you’re simply dead wrong, there is a lack of proper debate in most scientific disciplines these days.

          • And how much could you realistically contribute to a debate on astrophysics at the PhD level?

            Science is always being debated….you are just unaware of it….for the above reason.

          • LOL… you can be funny sometimes, and when you are, you never have any idea why.

          • @s_c_f:disqus 

            No, it just means you don’t have an answer.

          • OK, if that’s the way you want to play it, sure!

  5. I think we should resolve not to treat science as though it’s some kind of religion.

    • No one does.

      The whole point of science is that it’s a SEARCH for knowledge.

      • Oh, I think some people hold it up like it’s some kind of religion, even though the kinds of answers it can give us about the human condition are limited, it is often flawed, and even abused for political and ideological purposes.

        • ‘search for knowledge’ starts with ‘search’ not ‘certainty’ or ‘ideology’

          Cons shouldn’t talk about ‘abused for political and ideological purposes’ without at least blushing.

          • Another misconception about the people who voted for Harper.  They don’t necessarily deny evolution.  Further,  the Catholic French might belong to a church that denys evolution and many of them are NDP and Liberal party members.

          • I’ve been in the Harper party, I know what they are.

            The RC church btw …anywhere…agrees with evolution.

          • Taking her post seriously doesn’t do much to repair your credibility, does it.

          • I said a misconception about the people who VOTED for Harper.  You don’t need a party membership to vote.  Furthermore, I am a Roman Catholic, I know about what all the work God did on the six days and how he took a rest on the seventh.  I am glad to hear that you realize even religious zealots learn about scientific principles.  Afterall, it would difficult to get into University without completing any courses in science.

          • Oh, you mean his base?  Same thing.

            Early tea party types

            If you were RC, you’d know the pope endorsed evolution

            Didn’t want to make the Galileo goof again.

        • In all the ways that matter; explaining our universe to as great a level of detail as the questioner chooses to reach for; science has succeeded, and continues to succeed, where every single religion has failed.

          Science not a religion. It’s better than that.

          • You people keep proving my point for me in ways I couldn’t imagine. You worship science by making statements that are ludicrous and unsupported by fact. It’s the worshippers of science who keep making foolish and unscientific statements. How ironic!

        • “…the kinds of answers it can give us about the human condition are limited…”
          So does that mean that when you are physically sick you go to your priest who has gleaned “answers” with religion or do you go to a physician who has gotten answers with scientific research?

          • No, it means that if I want any kind of wisdom about this world, my physician wouldn’t be the only person who would have it. Why people like you think she/he would, or reduce everything down to science, is beyond me. Science can’t even fully explain why a cat purrs, yet here you are telling me it is to be worshipped for all the answers and solutions to everything. It’s complete nonsense, and it’s incredible that people who pride themselves for being rational would actually engage in these kinds of irrational arguments.

          • No one is “worshipping” science.  However, when we need an answer to a question that affects our lives, it is where we can find it.  I am not talking about why a cat purrs…who cares?  I am talking about “why can’t my child breathe?”  and “can you help her?”  Science is remarkably helpful in our day to day questions of survival.  We don’t have to worship it to appreciate it.

          • Yes, you are worshipping science, far more than you claim to worship God. It can’t possibly have all the answers. Not even close. But a zombie like you says it does. That’s why your reasoning abilities are so limited. You engage in this backward thinking — all in the name of science. Ain’t that a hoot.

    • I think we should resolve not to treat religion as though it’s some kind of science.

      • I think we should resolve not to engage in “I know you are but what am I” type arguments. You’re the second one to do it in as many days now. It’s not very creative or imaginative, you know. Just saying.

      • We don’t.  Nobody does.

        • Actually, in the US they want religion taught in science class

          • Yes, they want to teach “intelligent design” right?

          • Do you even know what the “intelligent design” argument is?

          • Yup, Creationism under a new name.

          • That’s not treating religion as science, that’s teaching religion alongside science.  Nobody treats religion as science, religion (pretty well by definition) does not undergo the scientific method. There are no intelligent design research projects, it’s entirely unfalsifiable.

    • Dennis, every religion is based on a group of beliefs with no requirement for any basis in reality.  Science if nothing else, should always be supported by real evidence that can be verified.  Yes, science has ‘followers’ but unlike religion, these followers require proof of the assertions being made before they bow down at the temple of research and give their blessing.  In religion, no proof is required for the followers to bow down.

      • You’re just proving my original point, which is that science is more a religion to people like you than it is anything else. Your knee-jerk assessment of religion just proves that. You’re not interested in a sober assessment of evidence and fact. You’re only interested in your short-sighted and lazy ideologies. Amazing.

        And I shudder to think that someone like you is any kind of a “Healtchare Insider”, given your casual approach to facts and the truth. Again, amazing.

        • Dennis, like Dean del Maestro, thinks he is in a position to judge fellow Catholics.  You might want to run this by your priest, Dennis.

          • JanBC, like a village idiot, thinks she’s being listened to when in fact people are laughing. lol. next.

          • Now you’re hearing voices?  Bad sign.  You might want to run this by your health care provider.

          • Do you have anything to say on the topic at hand? Of course not. Next.

          • I think we should resolve not to engage in “I know you are but what am I” type arguments. You’re the third one to do it in as many days now. It’s not very creative or imaginative, you know. Just saying

          • Really, where did I do that? Geez. Next.

          • Dennis…how can you call yourself a Christian and make such awful comments toward people…..not nice at all.

          • I love it when people, after being exposed by me, resort to the line that I’m not being a Christian towards them. I’m sorry, but I’m not going to stand here and take your bigoted remarks without fighting back. I don’t know how standing up for truth and Christianity doesn’t make me a Christian, especially when the accusation comes from someone who has an obvious contempt for me and what I believe in.

          • Thanks, Jan…I might report him….but I am sure he is going to tell on me first.

          • No problem.  Dennis has days when he thinks he’s God.  A god that created a bunch of idiots he seems to think.  He doesn’t see that his supposed moral code and his behavior are at odds.

        • Okay Dennis, let’s not talk about your particular religion but how about The Church of Scientology.  What are your views on that religion’s assertions regarding the space ship?
          Now, let’s discuss science.  You have maligned my credentials and expressed doubt that I can recognize the difference between “facts and truth”.  My education has all been centred around the human body.  My first job in nursing was in cardiology.  Are you saying that the research done regarding the human heart is questionable?

          • I don’t know what Scientology’s assertions are regarding a space ship are, nor do I see why it’s relevant to the current discussion.

            Many scientists have committed fraud in the name of science. According to your apparent logic, does this mean science is a fraud?

            I’m not saying all scientific research is questionable, just as I would hope that you would agree that not all scientific research is beyond reproach, or subject to improvement.

            What I am saying is that it frightens me that someone of your limited reasoning abilities would have the health of other people in their hands. Lord forbid that they be Christians and that you treat them with the kind of bigotry you have put on display while on here.

          • Hahahahaha…..someone of my limited reasoning….that’s a good one.  Luckily in the hospital, all care is knowledge based on science!  As a Christian who follows Christ’s practice of treating others the way I want to be treated, it is highly unlikely that I would treat anyone badly.  I treat everyone well, even the ignorant….so should you come in, you will be treated like a prince.

          • Weren’t you the one who said religion isn’t based on any evidence of any kind? How can someone calling themselves a “Christian” say something so patently false?

            And, no, not everything that goes on in a hospital is based strictly on science, and a hospital isn’t representative of the world, either. All health care practitioners need to rely on judgement, personal histories, some wisdom, and so on. Science can sometimes tell us why things happen, it can’t tell us how to act, how to tell a patient they’re dying, or whether a certain treatment is ideal. The human factor often transcends mere science. And what about outside the hospital setting. Does science tell us if we should kill the unborn? Does science tell us if we should go to war? Does science tell how a cat purrs? No. That’s because it’s not the religion you make it out to be.

            Or am I just too “ignorant” for any of this to get through to a person of your extraordinary “reasoning” capabilities. lol

          • Well Dennis I was always of the understanding that “blind faith” described a person’s belief in the powers of religion.  I didn’t think people looked for evidence, although I am aware that the “Saints” do have to perform some miracles to achieve their status.
            As for the hospital, all interventions are suposed to be based on “best practice” which are evidenced based.  Nursing practice continually evolves based on scientifc research.  I understand that the hospital is not the real world but you challenged me about my “limited reasoning” and my ability to function in my workplace and that is my workplace.
            I am not encumbered by judgments based on religous leanings and therefore I have compassion for everyone…including women who abort their babies.  I also have compassion for people who are very anti-abortion.  I look after alcholics and drug-abusers.  I have cared for people who think they are the devil and people who believe their spouse is the devil.  I have looked after people that are very wealthy and people with nothing…not even a home. 
            I am a Catholic but I would never let my faith affect my job.  Further, my understanding of Christianity and compassion is that it is not flexible…whether you agree with the choices of others or not, you do not treat them badly.

          • “Well Dennis I was always of the understanding that ‘blind faith’ described a person’s belief in the powers of religion. I didn’t think people looked for evidence, although I am aware that the “Saints” do have to perform some miracles to achieve their status.”

            Spoken like someone who sees Christianity as a bigoted outsider, not an actual believer.

            You want to try again? lol

      • “these followers require proof of the assertions being made”

        Most followers of science demand no proof whatsoever, unfortunately.  I suppose this is either because so many people are so scientifically illiterate that they are incapable of evaluating evidence, or it might be the complete lack of understanding of the scientific method these days, or it might be an attempt to use science as a substitute for religion, but whatever the case, it seems to be true.  Vast legions of people are eagerly willing to subscribe to the most outrageous scientific quackery and will do so indefinitely.

        As soon as somebody gets their PhD and puts on a lab coat, it seems easy to attract subscribers to complete quackery. This phenomenon tends to drown out the good science going on.

        • Peer review. Absolutely required.

        • Yes, very much reflects my thoughts about treating science like a religion. Well said.

        • Excuse me, I guess I should have said “good science” which appears in a peer  reviewed, reputable journal.  The problem s_c_f is that people are not always “objective” in deciding if a finding is “quakery”.  Dennis F. for instance does not believe in evolution despite the consensus of most biologists.  Also, there are many climate change deniers.  Plus there is the disagreement between neurologists and vascular surgeions on the treatment for MS.  Chances are you will decide a result of research is quakery because it doesn’t fit with your preconceived notion of what is true.


          •  Dennis F. for instance does not believe in evolution despite the consensus of most biologists. “

            It is quite unscientific to believe a claim merely because it is the consensus of “most biologists”.  Modern science is about reasoning from experimental data, not arguments from authority or aristocratic rule.

            Your post is a perfect example of what Dennis_F was criticizing:  treating the claims of scientists as though they come from a kind of infallible priesthood.

          • Infallible priesthood – can you provide any examples of this?

          • “If I were wrong, it would only have taken one.” –Albert Einstein, commenting on the book 100 Authors Against Einstein”

            I’ve always loved this on consensus.

            Point taken re. consensus. But isn’t it also likely the case that much of that scientific consensus is built upon their review of the originating science or at least the peer reviewed literature? – at least i hope so.

          • @kcm2:disqus 

            One certainly hopes so, but for any issue with political or social ramifications, this is dubious.  Even for those without such ramifications, the weight of evidence eventually depends on reproducibility.   Relying solely on peer review is dangerous, since that amounts to relying on the opinion of two or three fellow scientists for any given paper.

          • Gaunilon:

            You seem to not be giving enough credit to the concept of peer review. This is in fact a critical process. There has been overwhelming evidence thus far from different scientific fields to support a theory of evolution; always keeping in my that even Einstein may be proven shortly to have been mistaken. 

          • Lest we misunderstand each other: I am a fan both of the theory of evolution and of peer review. However, I do not take the theory of evolution to be a certainty, nor do I take peer review more seriously than it deserves. For a given paper, peer review simply means that two or three fellow scientists have read the paper and believe it is publishable. That is all. It is neither a guarantee nor a reliable indicator of truth.

          • Well sure, but in the case of evolution it is not a reproducible experiment, it’s simply the best available theory that’s is supported by the best available evidence so far. CC is a similar although less established theory. Each theory has an overwhelming set of concurring evidence; neither can claim ownerhip of absolute truth.

          • Gaunilon, what can I possibly say….Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution has worldwide acceptance EXCEPT among certain religous types who believe a God is responsible for creating human beings through some fantastical powers.  Basically, brilliant intellects using rational ideas have not come up with a better idea unless they buy into a fantasty which you call God.
            Last year in Haiti, some people were stoning others because there was a Cholera outbreak and they believed certain people brought on this bad luck.  We could say yes it is bad luck OR it is a bacteria in the water….that would be the consensus of most biologists but perhaps not the religous in the comunity.  Who would be right?

          • Again, your argument is one from authority. Five hundred years ago the heliocentric geocentric account of the solar system had worldwide acceptance EXCEPT among certain religious types (specifically, a monk). One hundred and fifty years ago, Newton/Lagrange/Laplace’s theories of mechanics held worldwide acceptance EXCEPT among certain religious types who believed a God was responsible for creating human beings with free will, and therefore recognized that Lagrangian dynamics must be an incorrect account of the universe. Today both quantum mechanics and general relativity have worldwide acceptance EXCEPT that they are mutually contradictory, and therefore can’t both be right.

            Science is not as simple or clearcut as you think, and it is generally a mistake to ridicule those who doubt the conclusions of the scientific community rather than accepting it as gospel truth, as you seem to be doing. Any good scientist will tell you that he welcomes skepticism as a means of rooting out errors.

          • So Gaunilon you believe in the theory of evolution and still you are harrassing me…why?   Every true fan of science believes that scientists and their theories should always be challenged?  What leads you people to believe that anyone would not welcome a skeptic?  I am not speaking from a position of authority…just common sense.  To bring up beliefs of 500 years ago is a little bit lame in challenging an accepted view of something that is happening today….do you have an alternate plausible theory to evolution?

          • “So Gaunilon you believe in the theory of evolution and still you are harrassing me…why?”

            If this seems like harassment, we should stop here. I thought it was a healthy disagreement.

            ” Every true fan of science believes that scientists and their theories should always be challenged?”

            Yes.

            “What leads you people to believe that anyone would not welcome a skeptic?”

            Who do you mean by “you people”? You seem to find Dennis_F’s skepticism unwelcome, sort of a heresy against the scientific priesthood. I find it welcome and healthy.

            ” I am not speaking from a position of authority…just common sense.”

            When you go after someone for not believing in evolution despite “the consensus of most biologists”, you are making an argument from authority: the authority of the scientific community. It’s not a scientific argument, nor is it especially common sense.

            “To bring up beliefs of 500 years ago is a little bit lame in challenging an accepted view of something that is happening today…”

            Actually it’s remarkably nimble. The point is that just because something is widely accepted doesn’t make it true. Even when those who widely accept it are members of the scientific community. As Dennis_F pointed out, science should not be made into a religion. God never declared the utterances of the scientific community to be binding on earth and in heaven.

            “…do you have an alternate plausible theory to evolution?”

            Sure. Read Michael Behe’s “Darwin’s Black Box” for example. Incidentally, Behe is a scientist. But don’t take his conclusions on faith, check the arguments for yourself. You may be surprised to find that the skeptics regarding Darwinian evolution aren’t such idiotic neanderthals as you seem to think they are.

          • Climate change denier? You mean those people who happen to have noticed there has been no warming, globally, for the past 13 years? Yeah, those people, the majority of the population, the ones that have now jumped on the bandwagon that global warming is a fraud, the ones that politicians are beginning to notice. That would be the people that actually pay attention to scientific theories and notice when they’ve been falsified, or at least shown to be wildly off the mark.

            Let’s go the science, shall we? Perhaps the most recent publication. Let’s see, the latest publication in the field, published December 29th, 2011 in the journal Paleoceanography, presents evidence that Atlantic Ocean surface temperatures have significantly cooled over the past millennium, steadily. This confirms similar results previously published, results that have been collectively ignored by the global warming establishment. The results present more evidence that current temperatures are below the temperatures one thousand years ago.

            http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2011/2011PA002130.shtml

            But we know these scientists must be wrong, because healthcare insider knows that scientists publishing to the journal of Paleoceanography, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, are just a bunch of deniers.

            Regardless, people need to ignore the BS that appears in media outlets and view the science for themselves, because most of the media cannot be trusted. Most people don’t bother, they’d rather parrot the talking points from their “scientific” idols.

            As for evolution, it sounds like I would be in wild disagreement with Dennis F, but the fact is, he seems to have a much more nuanced and sensible attitude towards science than most people.

          • You just proved my point….I mention climate change deniers and you are all over me but you agree that denying evolution is just wrong.  You will notice that I never even told you my opinion on climate change or evolution…you just assumed and reacted with what you believe to be true.
            The fact is that you already have ingrained beliefs and you will look for research that supports those beliefs.  A true follower of science puts aside their beliefs and lets the research lead them where it may.

          • Wrong. You uttered the phrase “climate change denier” (the term denier is an insult), and not only that, you said, “Also, there are climate change deniers”, and it’s clear what you meant when you said that. As for my opinion on the matter, I follow the research, period. My position on the matter has been in flux. My current position is that the majority of climate change research is wrong, because it has been falsified – thepredictions wrt global warming have been falsified, and the climate models have been conclusively shown to be wildly inaccurate, and there is research emerging constantly that is contradicting past research. However, I follow the research to see where it goes. I was even kind enough to give you a link to some of the latest. So save your sanctimonious screed for someone else.

            Gaunilon was correct to make note of the fact you used the word “consensus” in a previous comment. Consensus is meaningless in science, what matters are the theories, the experiments and the predictions, and whether theories have been put to the test of falsifiability, nothing more.

      • Inasmuch as we have disagreed before, let that not be any kind of presumption that I disagree with you here over this post. As such, I have nothing but sympathy for you as you attempt to make a rational point here.

  6. You write:  “One particularly outrageous anti-evidence policy is the Canadian Blood Services’ continuing refusal of blood donations from gay men….(and)….I would like to ask folks at CBS why they haven’t changed what seems like an awfully outdated and discriminatory policy…”

    If you’d done just a little homework before writing that you’d know it isn’t CBS you need to ask.  It’s Health Canada.  They regulate CBS and it’s Health Canada that’s decreed gay men can’t donate blood.  Moreover, Canadian Blood Services is on the record as believing ”a lifetime ban on gay men giving blood is obsolete and wants the government to relax the rules.”

    So, next time you feel like having a little rant, pretend you’re a real journalist and not just a blogger.  Look up the facts.

    • It is also disengenous to say that the UK has lifted the ban when the truth of the matter is that if a gay man has sex (protected or not) with another man, he is not allowed to give blood for one year in the UK.  All they did was lift the lifetime ban and make it a one year ban for “risky behavior” so unless you are a celebate gay man, you won’t be donating any blood.  Further, it is not just Canada that bans gay men from donating blood but France and the US as well.  It has to do with the higher risk of HIV.  The US had a case in 2008 where the person lied in screening about a homosexual contact, donated blood and then it didn’t test positive right away but it ended up positive and gave someone HIV.

    • You’re right that the final decision rests with HC, but the change would have to come first from CBS, and while they have said they think the policy may be outdated and that they are reviewing the impact of the lifting of the ban on other countries, they have not changed their policy while other national blood services have moved to reflect the science.

      • Lets get this clear, shall we?  CBS is reviewing the lifetime ban, taking into consideration the experience of other blood agencies.  Once they’ve reached a conclusion, they can recommend that Health Canada approve a change — or not, depending on the findings of the review.  But the point is that CBS is not empowered to make a unilateral change to the existing policy.  That authority rests solely with HC.  So to say that CBS has not changed its policy is to say — what?  That its review hasn’t been completed and, thus, no recommendation for change has been made?  We know all that.  So, is your point that they should be moving (or should have moved) more quickly?  If so, why not just say that — and adduce some evidence to support the contention?

  7. This comment was deleted.

    • LOL Jesus was born in Palestine.

  8. That’s it?  Seriously?  Nequequam annus horribilus.

  9. “Skepticism about the flu vaccine remained, despite the fact that the benefits of getting the shot far outweigh potential harm”
    Although the statement above is consistent with the conclusions of your original article, the government’s and public’s response to the flu shot is completely rational.   The massive benefits from the flu shot are societal.   Reduction of lost time at work is good for the economy.  The shot also alleviates overburdening the public health care system.  It is not surprising that our government (and employers) do all they can to encourage us to get the shot.

    As a healthy low risk individual with a nice job the benefits of the flu shot are pretty minimal.  I may get sick for a few days or even a week, but my income will not be affected nor will my long term health.   I am not particularly concerned about the risks of the shot, but it can cause my arm to hurt and is inconvenient.  So my trade off is a certain minor irritation to avoid a possible minor irritation.  It is not really surprising that many in my position are indifferent unless they have loved ones who would be at risk.

    Of course, this means that a sizable fraction of the population are self-centred jerks but that is hardly a unique observation.

    • Exactly right.  ”Benefits” is relative.

  10. We don’t.

  11. “I would like to ask folks at CBS why they haven’t changed what seems like an awfully outdated and discriminatory policy when other similar health systems around the world have managed to do so.”

    Perhaps it has something to do with the thousands of Canadians who contracted HIV and Hep C from tainted blood in the 1980s and the millions of dollars the Canadian Government paid in compensation to the victims of the Tainted Blood Scandal.

  12. “One particularly outrageous anti-evidence policy is the Canadian Blood Services’ continuing refusal of blood donations from gay men, when other countries—such as Australia and the U.K.—have lifted the ban to move in-step with the science. ”

    Let’s consider that for a moment. 
    (1) Is it true that men who engage in homosexual acts are more likely to have contracted HIV?  
    (2) Is the blood screening infallible, or is there occasionally a false negative?

    If the answer to each question is “yes”, then it follows that changing the policy will cause someone to get infected with HIV who would otherwise not be.  Then the pertinent question is, which will save more lives:  (a) increasing the blood supply somewhat, while increasing the HIV-infection rate, or (b) maintaining the current blood supply and HIV-infection rate?

    I don’t know the answer to that question – it depends on how many people are dying for lack of available blood versus how many false negatives would result, taking into account how many additional people would be able to donate if the ban were lifted. I certainly wouldn’t assume that Australia’s or the UK’s situation is exactly the same as ours with respect to those three variables.  

    It would be very helpful if Ms. Belluz would answer such questions rather than jumping to conclusions.

    • Why would Australia be radically different from us?

      Didn’t the Australian study that the author links to find that their change in policy lead to an increase in donations of 900,000 units with no increase in infected samples found (for the record, the number of infected units found being 24 units out of more than 4 million collected).  I’m pretty sure that 900,000 extra units of blood with no increase in infected samples is pretty good.  In the five years before their change the Aussies collected 
      4,025,571 units of blood, 24 of which were found to be tainted with HIV.  In the five years AFTER they changed policy they collected 
      4,964,628 units, and, ironically, again 24 of them were found to be infected.  Although false negatives may well be an issue, surely blood samples from gay men are not more likely to result in false negatives than other samples are.  And besides, just how many false negatives can there possibly be? Even if false negatives occur as frequently as true negatives (which surely can’t be the case) how big of a risk is that?  By my math, under the total ban the Australian system had an infection rate of 0.000596%.  After they moved away from the ban, the system had an infection rate of 0.000483%

      In short, it would appear to be pretty clear from the Australian experience that even if some people who are infected and would have been prevented from donating blood under the old system end up donating blood, and it gets in to the system, and it’s not caught,  the total increase in donations is so many orders of magnitude higher than the potential increase in infected samples that it’s virtually impossible for the aggregate risk of infection to increase.

      I guess there’s always an argument to erring on the side of caution, but I think we might be being overly paranoid if we’re not willing to trade 4 million units of blood that are 99.994% safe for 5 million units of blood that are 99.995% safe.  At those rates, you could literally tell me in the hospital that one needle contains 99.994% clean blood and the other needle is from the 99.995% clean sample and I honestly don’t think I’d care one iota which needle you used.

  13. Point taken re. consensus. But isn’t it also likely the case that much of that scientific consensus is built upon their review of the originating science or at least the peer reviewed literature – at least i hope so.

    • I expect a lot of that consensus is based on confirmations of consistent objective observations and measurements of reality (as we know it, anyway). A lot of individuals making observations all by themselves in the field then get together and share those observations, confirming the hypothesis of how something is supposed to work, testing again, and working toward a working theory of, say, Gravity, or Evolution, or Climate Change. 

      It is not a conspiracy, but yes, it is merely a consensus, when we all confirm that Gravity works consistently in such and such a way. A consensus with evidence is not a fantasy. 

    • Yes, the results have to be repeatable and verifiable….they don’t just skim through some reading and decide to go easy on the guy, cuz he’s nice.

      People are still trying to prove Einstein wrong

  14. I guess that since the Medical Post has major financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry we’re going to hear lots of pseudoskeptical tripe running down Orthomolecular and holistic medicine, pro-vaccine propaganda despite the stats showing that flu jabs are overwhelmingly ineffective, and more Opinion-based Medicine.
    How about changing the name of the blog to “Science-y Sounding” sound bites that confuse health technology with science?

    ” FLULAVAL is an influenza virus vaccine indicated for active immunization of adults 18 years of age and older against influenza disease caused by influenza virus subtypes A and type B contained in the vaccine. This indication is based on immune response elicited by FLULAVAL, and there have been no controlled trials demonstrating a decrease in influenza disease after vaccination with FLULAVAL.”

    Right off the package insert from the manufacturer.

  15. Science is doing fine. Criticism comes from the exposure of the poor science, which is based on research relying on  thousands of unquestioned variables,for example, which cannot be replicated. Sociological and psychological research are good examples of this faulty research methodology.  

    The recent news of fraudulent research by Diederik Staple, prominent Dutch social psychologist, is a perfect example of how easily these destructive, immoral acts can continue for decades,without our knowledge..       

    We must be vigilant and examine carefully all ‘scientific’ findings, especially when they come from sociologist and psychologists who can so easily juggle findings from their false research about serious mental illnesses.

    Too long they have led us astray 

  16. Dennis, please stop the trolling. It does nothing to further the discussion. If you have nothing better to do then please find a forum somewhere to bother.

  17. I think the point about home care is it can provide the appropriate level of service without the expensive capital costs of running an entire hospital.

  18. I don`t have too much to add to the asbestos debate, other than a degree in propaganda, and some experience & training in recognizing & handling the stuff in a heavy oil upgrader setting (while working to pay for said education).

    As far as I understand things, for every use of asbestos, there are alternative products which, for the most part, are more expensive, no more effective, and may or may not be safer in the long term.  Canada tends to use the alternatives more than some countries because we can afford to.

    However, I think the real story (which Ms. Belluz was alluding to) is that there is an international consensus on the safety of asbestos.    There are also parts of our government which regulate these things, and that these parts contain experts who examine the various claims, talk to industry, scientists, labour groups, etc, and come up with policy recommendations.  Last time I checked, none of these experts, departments or agencies were part of the Prime Minister`s Office.

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